9 flock management tips to combat the wet spring

Prolonged wet weather is causing a headache for many sheep farmers, who are struggling to turn out sheep.

Waterlogged fields are forcing shepherds to look at alternative feed options, and the wet weather also presents additional health challenges for ewes and lambs.

We spoke to four livestock advisers and vets to get advice on how farmers can mitigate the effects of the weather at lambing time and beyond.

See also: 6 ways to future-proof your sheep business

Who we spoke to

  • Rhidian Jones of RJ Livestock Systems in Alnwick, Northumberland, provides advice on sheep management from a recent AHDB talk.
  • Sheep vet Emily Gascoigne of Synergy Farm Health, and Phoebe McCarter, National Animal Disease Information Service veterinary adviser, give health and housing advice.
  • Soil scientist and grassland adviser Niels Corfield gives pasture advice.

Before lambing

1. Ensure a pre-lambing BCS check

Thoroughly assess body condition score (BCS) to ensure supplementation and management groups can be optimised to keep the flock fit (BCS of 3-3.5 at lambing in lowland breeds).

Rhidian Jones’ tips

  • A BCS check when clostridial boosters are given, at housing and at the point of lambing are advisable.
  • Supplementary feed to keep ewes milking and in good condition.
  • A metabolic profile three to four weeks before lambing, if you haven’t already started, can indicate if rations are sufficient. Test for energy (betahydroxybutyrate) and protein (albumin and urea). Costs vary according to laboratory and service, but can range from £38.50 for 10 ewes to £120 for 20 ewes.
  • A very rough rule of thumb is the rumen needs 1 metabolisable energy (ME) to use 1% of crude protein, which is why beet is useful as a high-energy, low-protein feed.
  • Feed in mid- and late pregnancy to stockpile grass for turnout. It’s cheaper to feed a ewe when her daily requirements are 18MJ rather than 25MJ (70kg ewe) in late pregnancy.
  • If spring grass is 4cm long and growing, it will have enough energy (12.5ME) and protein (20%+) for lactating ewes. Supplementing ewes with 2kg (freshweight) of fodder beet a head a day is a good way to balance the protein available.

2. Offer sufficient rest periods for grassland

Adequate rest periods between grazing events are important once the desired residual is hit (3.5-4cm).

Mild weather will lead to regrowth. But if eaten too early, it will use up the plant’s energy reserves and stunt the plant later in the year.

Niels Corfield’s tips

  • Rest fields for at least 90-100 days.
  • Reduce groups if possible to rest more of the farm, but be prepared to move sheep more often.
  • Watch for overgrazing and uneven grazing, as more palatable grasses will be grazed harder.
  • Ensure even gazing across the paddock by higher stocking rates for shorter periods.
  • Ensure fast regrowth with lower grass use rates. This also lowers parasite risk.

3. Limit poaching and overgrazing

Poaching and bare ground can be an issue in wet weather. Be wary of farm management practices that concentrate animals over small areas.

Niels Corfield’s tips

  • Consider supplementary feeding on a sacrifice paddock that needs to be redrilled. This will help limit sward damage elsewhere on the farm.
  • If this isn’t possible, consider introducing grass seed into bare patches left by ring feeders.
  • Patching up bare areas with cheap grass seed can stop weeds encroaching once spring and warmer temperatures arrive.
  • Fixed water troughs and ring feeders should be avoided if possible. Drag troughs are ideal for controlling poaching as animals drink.
  • Bale graze on bare areas to help encourage pasture diversity.
  • Don’t worry about trampling in thatch – it is vital to feed organisms and break down old sward. 

During lambing

4. Be vigilant against lameness indoors

Housing is a risk period for lameness spread, particularly when sheds are heavily stocked because sheep cannot be turned out to pasture.

Emily Gascoigne’s tips

  • Keep lame sheep out of the maternity pen if possible.
  • Isolate lame sheep to stop the spread.
  • Get the ewe treated according to your flock health plan as soon as possible.

Read more about the Five-Point Plan on lameness 

5. Ensure good hygiene to minimise disease risk

Pathogens can build up if animals can’t be turned out. This will be exacerbated at the end of lambing as bacterial load builds.

Emily Gascoigne’s tips

  • A constant ready supply of hot water ensures cleaning jobs are done frequently and effectively. An extra kettle only costs £10 from a supermarket and large 20-litre electric urns cost £50-£60.
  • Disinfect the lamb hotbox. This is where the weakest animals go.
  • Dunk equipment (bottles, syringes) in sterilising fluid (sodium hypochlorite) between uses.
  • Colostrum is essential for good lamb health. Lambs need at least 50ml for each kilogramme of birth weight within the first two hours of life and at least 200ml per 1kg of birthweight over the first 24 hours overall. For example, a 4.5kg lamb needs 225ml in first two hours and 900ml in first 24 hours.
  • Double dip navels with iodine as soon as they are born and then six hours later when you check they have had a feed of colostrum.
  • Create a barrier where scour outbreaks happen.
  • Minimise time spent with poorly lambs. Can lambs be moved with a crook from outside the pen?
  • Keep bedding dry to reduce lamb disease and mastitis by topping it up regularly.

6. Deal with cold lambs at pasture

A lamb with a temperature below 37C is described as having hypothermia and requires assistance.

Emily Gascoigne’s tips

  • Temporary shelters and strips of bales can be useful to provide shelter.
  • If a lamb looks sluggish and feels cold, it probably has hypothermia.
  • If it is more than six hours old, avoid putting it in the hotbox, as it will have mobilised its brown fat reserves. 
  • First give the lamb an energy injection (intraperitoneal glucose) 2.5cm to the side and 2.5cm below (tail end) the naval. Use a 19-gauge, one-inch needle pointing at an angle to the tail head. A dose of 30-50ml is usually advised, but speak to your vet.
  • Once injected, allow the lamb to recover for one hour and once its head is up and alert, give it 200-300ml of milk.


7. Watch out for increased coccidiosis

Wet weather can challenge lambs, increasing susceptibility to disease and wet, muddy conditions can increase intake of oocysts (the eggs that cause coccidiosis).

Phoebe McCarter’s tips

  • Lambs are at the highest risk of coccidiosis when they are four to eight weeks old.
  • Look out for scour, lack of weight gain and loss of appetite.
  • Speak to your vet for a diagnosis, as symptoms are similar to nematodirus.
  • Early identification and treatment is essential. Talk to your vet about products to combat coccidiosis.

8. Watch nematodirus forecasts

A very wet and, at times, mild winter will means nematodirus hatch is very variable. A hatch was seen in January in some areas, but a colder February has slowed the hatch down. 


  • South-facing fields will hatch earlier as they see more sun and reach higher temperatures.
  • Every 100m increase in altitude will delay the hatch by seven days.
  • Avoid challenging lambs by moving to lower-risk grazing that was not grazed by lambs last spring.
  • Nematodirus damage is done by larvae that aren’t producing eggs, so faecal egg counts (FECs) cannot be used to decide when to treat.
  • FECs can help track which fields are safe for lambs in the spring.
  • Monitor for signs of diarrhoea and ill thrift.

Farmers can access the SCOPS (Sustainable Control of Parasites in Sheep) nematodirus alert map

After lambing

9. Take pressure off ewes later in the year

It’s far more cost-effective to keep condition on sheep rather than seeing large peaks and troughs through the year.

Alleviating the pressure on ewes with creep feeding, creep gates or early weaning can help set sheep up for breeding.

Rhidian Jones’ tips

  • Wean lambs early aged eight to 10 weeks.
  • Feeding a lamb nut at 300g a head a day (32kg a head) can help finish lambs four weeks earlier.
  • Feeding 600g a day (50kg a head) can finish lambs six weeks earlier.
  • Consider using a creep gate to allow lambs access to the next paddock.